Behold the Sea

RNCM, Saturday 3rd November 2007

‘Behold the Sea’

Vaughan Williams – A Sea Symphony

Stanford – Songs of the Fleet     Britten – Four Sea Interludes

Altrincham Choral with Manchester Philharmonia Orchestra

Rebecca Nash-soprano, James Rutherford-baritone and Jonathan Scott-organ

Steven’s Musings on this concert

Behold the Sea! – already the title of the concert sounds grand and impressive, and yes, it is a tour de force for all involved.

Preparing for this concert has been hard work and rightly so, bearing in mind the choral involvement of the symphony, yet coupling these works with another ‘sea-faring’ piece – the Four Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes’ by Benjamin Britten.

I feel a strange responsibility to do justice to all of these works, possibly more than any other concert I have conducted, and yet I cannot explain why. The forces involved are vast and in particular the contribution of the Baritone soloist.

I know the ladies and gentlemen of the orchestra will rise to the challenge of this large programme, but I also know that they are looking forward to performing the Britten and indeed so am I.

We have built a relationship with this orchestra over the years and every time they seem to produce a performance of tremendous spirit and quality, and I know this concert will be no exception.

I feel very privileged to be conducting these works and believe that the depth of each composer involvement shines through in every bar.

The contrast between the pieces is vibrant and exciting, yet all are unified by the same theme – the sea!

A force which has affected so many and in so many different ways, and for me the following words exemplify everything magical about it.

“Sometimes we are lucky enough to know that our lives have been changed, to discard the old, embrace the new, and run headlong down an immutable course. It happened to me … on that summer’s day, when my eyes were opened to the sea.”

. . . Jacques Yves Cousteau

An Alto’s view of ‘Behold The Sea’

Behold the Sea! – “exhausting but exhilarating” – a view from the second altos

I usually sing in the back row of the second altos, but for this concert found myself on the front row between Adrienne and Barbara – and behind the trombones! I felt very exposed but, like everyone else, I was determined to do justice to this exciting programme. I’ve always enjoyed sea songs and sea/water inspired music, so I was really looking forward to this concert. I’ve been a member of ACS long enough to remember singing the Stanford and Vaughan Williams 20 years ago – but the Britten was to be a real bonus.

We were a bit tentative at certain points during the afternoon rehearsal – trying hard to hold ourselves back so that we had something left for the evening. Singing with a live orchestra is very different from practising with a recording. And so much to remember! But Steven, our Musical Director, as well as conducting the 51 piece orchestra, managed to give us far more help than we’d been led to expect. Like everyone else I was counting furiously, trying to get the entries right despite the changing time signatures, and watching Steven even more than usual. We were all ready for our tea!

In the evening concert itself I was particularly looking forward to hearing and seeing ‘live’ the Four Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes’. The start of ‘Dawn’ with the violins playing so high is a real goose-bump moment – and didn’t disappoint. ‘Storm’ is loud and discordant, wonderfully conveying the violence and energy of a storm at sea – I felt I was actually in it! Britten’s superb portrayal of the sea in all its moods – he lived by the sea and knew it well – was given an excellent rendition by the Manchester Philharmonic.

James Rutherford’s voice really suited both the Stanford Songs of the Fleet and the Vaughan Williams – clear and accurate with an engaging variety of tone and expression. And a special thank you to Sally Harrison for stepping into the VW role at two days’ notice. Her first entry needed to be arresting – and it was! Goosebumps again. Her voice really soared – lovely. Super performances from both of them in solo and duet passages.Some of my guests thought that the orchestra was a little too loud for them at times – but were most enthusiastic about their delivery.

As for ourselves, it wasn’t a flawless performance, but I felt we lifted ourselves and performed with great commitment and conviction. All the audience comments I heard were exceptionally complimentary – “very evocative of the sea in all its changing moods, absolutely stunning, real wow factor when both orchestra and ACS were at full volume, wonderful contrast with the quieter choir-only sections”. (And thank you, VW, for some lovely alto passages).

It was all over too soon. I couldn’t believe it when I turned the last page – already! After the jitters and teething problems of the afternoon, I felt it was an outstanding concert. All the hard work, extra rehearsals, listening to the CD’s and practising at home had paid off. Thank you everyone for giving me such an exceptional evening, and especially to Steven for holding it all together and continuing to inspire us. I am so glad I was able to be a part of it.

PS And thank you, Anne Bullock, for an interesting and appropriate display in the foyer. Always worth a look!

Jenny Williams – Alto 2